The strong acting performances and compelling subject matter may be weakened by the disjointed pacing of the denouement, but We Need To Talk About Bobby (Off Eastenders) at the King’s Head Theatre is still one to be watched.
From the title alone, it’s clear that Paperback’s We Need To Talk About Bobby (Off Eastenders) is going to explore the factors that trickle into the psychological breakdown of a child. The piece follows Annie who, in the peak of her preteens, is offered a provocative role in a continuing drama (perhaps not unlike EastEnders). When she is increasingly prompted to push the envelope in her role, and with the pressures of being exposed to the public eye, Annie’s parents ultimately fail to protect her.
We are urged to pick up on subtleties as the parents seemingly give Annie the freedom to pursue her career, and her colleagues highlight how mature she is ‘for her age’. The play is at its most poignant when plunging the audience into the deeply unsettling scenes that Annie must act out on set. The transition between her conversing with her dad then enduring the abuse of her television dad as Amy is both smooth and dizzyingly fast. The exchanges Annie has with her father suddenly become disturbing and hint at the way the television industry is slowly consuming the family. When all three actors are present for their heated family arguments, the witty dialogue and well-executed timing make up for clunkier moments of dialogue that transpire (particularly between Annie and her mum).
The traverse configuration at the King’s Head lends itself beautifully for the actors to interact with the audience, turning those seated around performers into members of crew. George Attwell Gerhards linguistically captures the manic nature of a set, and the actors inhabit the space well. Sonically however, more could be done to create a bustling set environment.
Tara Groves masterfully captures a sense of youth and naivety in Annie, which is wrenched as her narrative continues. George shines as Amy’s leering Dad, and as the lead actor on set, ushers in some much needed comic relief. Sophie Portway brings some humanity to her role as Annie’s caring makeup artist and, along with George, pulls off some wonderful accent work. That being said, there are moments where lines are garbled or rushed by various actors – causing us to miss potentially vital emotional moments.
I also feel more could also be done to differentiate between the set, backstage and Annie’s private life in the first half of We Need To Talk About Bobby (Off Eastenders). When all of these domains begin to bleed into each other (in the second half), the loss of the distinctions that had been established would significantly increase the stakes. This is especially relevant with regards to the particularly dramatic moment that all prior scenes have been building towards. In its current manifestation, the scene unfortunately happens too quickly – and the events that follow feel underwhelming as a result.
Returning to the title, it’s easy to see the parallels made to continuing drama in We Need To Talk About Bobby (Off Eastenders) – and indeed, the scenes that take place on set are gripping. In comparison to We Need To Talk About Kevin (which of course is unavoidable), this play flirts with the disturbing concepts it proposes – rather than fully plunging the audience into them. Again, this means the ending lacks the bite it could truly harness.